Alexandre Dimitri Song Billong. A player who, a couple of years ago, was seen as little more than dead wood in the Arsenal squad. However, a few years and a hat full of outstanding performances later, Song stands as a testament of Wenger’s policy of faith in youth. But why is the Alex Song of today so different to earlier seasons?
The main evaluation of Song’s season thus far is that he is no longer a true defensive midfielder, but more a deep-lying playmaker. The stats show this transition in team role, with his three main measurements of defensive contribution taking a gradual decrease this season as his main creative stats take a remarkable increase.
[table id=48 /]
With an average of 2.8 tackles per game and 2.1 interceptions per game, Alex Song still maintains a respectable rate in comparison to the divisions other defensive midfielders. However, it is still a long way off the likes of Lucas and Parker, who chalk up averages in excess of 4 tackles per game and only marginally better than the clubs other deep-lying midfielder- Arteta- who averages 2.5 tackles and 1.9 interceptions respectively.
The fact that Arteta has spent the majority of the season as Song’s midfield partner has been one a factor in his change in role. Whereas with Jack Wilshere as his midfield partner Song had to sit back and guard the back four more as Wilshere contributed to Arsenal’s forward play, his new midfield partner plays the majority of his game much deeper, shouldering a good chunk of the defensive responsibility as Song probes the opposition defence with penetrative passes.
More on Page 2: Through ball comparison with Mata, Modric, Fabregas…
[table id=49 /]
However, it is this element of his game which has earned him so many plaudits has been remarkable. This season Song can be ranked as arguably the best player in the league in terms of through balls. In fact, expanding it further, Song ranks respectively amongst footballs world-renowned creative talents, with only Ibrahimovic, Messi and Totti have created more accurate through balls than Song this season. This has paid off dividends, with the 24-year-old chalking up 7 assists- the second highest at the club- as he attempts to help fill the huge hole left by Fabregas in the summer.
One of Song’s main weaknesses, however, is that at times he appears to sometimes try too hard, whether that be in offensive or defensive aspects of his game. For all the delightful through balls and excellent tackles we have witnessed this season, there have been a fair share of overly eager attempts at through balls and unnecessary challenges that have earned him avoidable yellow cards
This season, Song has picked up seven bookings in the league, a tally only beaten by Lee Cattermole (8) and Jason Lowe (9). This is hardly surprising given the fact that he concedes fouls at a rate of 2.3 a game- only Tioté, Fellaini and Grant Holt are more notorious in this aspect.
Although not a massive flaw, he does need to add better decision making to his game (which should hopefully come to the fore as he matures as a player) to move up to the next level and be considered one of the very best central midfielders in the Premier league.
Providing he does this, Song has a very bright future in the centre of Arsenal’s midfield. Given how effective Song has been with added creative license, it will be interesting to see to what degree- if any- his role changes with the re-introduction of Jack Wilshere later in the season. Hopefully though, we will continue to see “Songinho” and his surprisingly delightful vision and passes for years to come.